Peter will be graduated from a university this year. He sought my advice: Should he take a job in sales with a major company or a management track position in the same company? He liked the idea of sales, but his main concern was the viability of starting a profession in sales. And while statistics suggest that the number of salespeople is not decreasing, much of what he read has raised a red flag about a career in sales. We chatted and also I suggested he watched a Google video a client recently forwarded to me –
You have likely heard that sales is a dwindling profession. You have heard that customers are 57% to 80% through their buying cycle before contacting a salesperson. It can be easy to jump to the conclusion that customers no longer need salespeople and that the profession is going the way of the dinosaur.
But let’s look at those statistics. They tell you a few very important things – that customers are initiating sales, that the pendulum of power has shifted to the customer, and the salesperson’s time has been truncated and influence decreased. But they don’t tell you what it is the customer knows, the quality of what the customer knows, or where the customer is in his or her buying journey. They also do not tell you customers don’t need or value salespeople.
It is not business as usual. What customers need from salespeople has dramatically changed. Research and customers themselves tell us in every day conversations that they are no longer interested in hearing how one product is superior to another. They are tired of product pitches – even customized ones. They are inundated with calls and offers. A recent McKinsey study tells us customers are looking for expertise and open and honest dialogues from sales organizations.
The role of the salesperson has changed from a focus on product fit to business outcomes. There are other changes in the field to – a shift to inside sales (apart from telemarketing), more hybrid selling that mixes face to face and remote participants, and more virtual sales events. Commodity products will continue to move to the Internet. But for complex and big-ticket B2B sales, from what I can see, there remains a great demand for salespeople who bring insights and ideas to customers that solve business challenges.
The influential role of salespeople in customers’ buying decision is supported by more than supposition. AutoNews Today reported that, in the eMaritzCX study, the salesperson was the most influential source in a decision to buy a car followed by friends and family, and then consumer guides (Consumer Report). You might be thinking this is true for car sales, but not in other types of sales. But according to a new survey from Corporate Visions, 85% of companies reported that it is the salesperson’s ability to communicate value that is of primary importance when it comes to closing. Selling boils down to trust, and establishing that is primarily in the hands of the salesperson.
The days of salespeople holding the keys to product information, and customers hungry to hear it are over. It is not enough to be a product expert. To deliver what customers value, salespeople must be prepared with knowledge, process, and tools. They need to be supported with coaching. And they need to tell a very different story.
Only 15% of salespeople, according to Forrester, talk about their solutions in terms of solving business problems. Going from product to business outcome is a big shift for most salespeople and marketing teams. The new sales is a collaboration of expertise between salespeople and customers (and often partners), so that the story is the customer’s story.
So what should that story look like? It’s not only different, but it is actually bigger and therefore must be clearer and better structured. It has more bases to cover and more buyers to influence. Customers have a checklist when they evaluate purchases. The following are the kinds of information that should be on your checklist as you develop solutions to your customers’ business challenges:
- Starts with the end in mind.
- Addresses the business challenge and articulate the importance of solving it.
- Talks about the elements of the solution, and the team delivering it, in terms of achieving the business outcome (business outcome becomes the theme running throughout the story).
- Includes a success story and examples to bring the value message home and make it stick.
- Proves value with metrics (ROI) and compares current, on-going costs, and cost of doing nothing, makes the business case in financial terms.
- Makes risk at least tolerable.
- Addresses needs specific to all key stakeholders to help achieve consensus.
- Shows culture fit and commitment of salesperson.
For complex and big-ticket sales – for the foreseeable future – high-level salespeople will be in high demand and, without the support of their organizations, in short demand.